South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Show Producer Not Negligent for Not Preventing Murder by Show Participant
Description Appeals court reversed a judgment against the maker of a television talk show that had resulted in the murder of one participant by another participant. In general, there is no duty to protect others against unreasonable risks of harm.
Topic Torts
Key Words Wrongful Death; Negligence; Duty to Protect: Criminal Acts
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Scott Amedure and Jonathan Schmitz appeared on the Jenny Jones television talk show, during which Schmitz "was surprised by Amedure's revelation that he had a secret crush on him." Schmitz was humiliated, and three days later, after he found a sexually suggestive note to him by Amedure, killed Amedure. Schmitz was convicted of murder. Amedure's heirs sued the parties involved in the production of the program, contending that they had a duty not to place parties in positions that would unreasonably expose them to harm. They contended that Schmitz did not know the true topic of the show, same-sex crushes, and the producers should have known that to "ambush" someone on the show could cause a violent reaction. A jury awarded Amedure's heirs over $29 million. Defendants appealed.
Decision

Reversed. "A negligence action may be maintained only if a legal duty exists that requires the defendant to conform to a particular standard of conduct in order to protect other against unreasonable risks of harm." In general, "there is no legal duty obligating one person to aid or protect another." There is "no general duty to anticipate and prevent criminal activity…." "While defendants' actions in creating and producing this episode of the show may be regarded by many as the epitome of bad taste and sensationalism, such actions are, under the circumstances, insufficient to impute to requisite relationship between the parties that would give rise to a legally cognizable duty."

Citation Graves v. Warner Bros., --- N.W.2d --- (2002 WL 31387764, Ct. App., Mich., 2002)

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